Alien: Isolation (PS4) - ReviewJake Weston , posted on 25 October 2014 / 7,134 Views
Alien or Aliens: which is the better film? It’s one of cinema’s oldest debates, with Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 classic perfecting the art of horror and science-fiction fuelled suspense, while James Cameron’s 1986 action-packed sequel set the template for over two decades of video game culture to follow. The argument for superiority could be made for either film - each one of the greatest films of all time - but in terms of video games there is no question: Alien: Isolation is the best Alien game ever made.
Perhaps it’s because Alien: Isolation is arguably the first game to be considered an adaptation of the original horror film, whereas the vast majority of Alien video games have drawn upon Aliens' gung-ho action aesthetics and space marine iconography. Rather than continue this tradition, developer Creative Assembly has opted to look at the world Ridley Scott and H.R. Geiger created for Alien, lending Alien: Isolation its claustrophobic environments, suspense-infused story, and keeping its focus on only one Alien as opposed to the swarms featured in most sequels and spin-offs.
The first film’s lineage is passed on to Alien: Isolation’s main character as well. You play as Amanda Ripley, daughter of the iconic hero brought to life in the main films by Sigourney Weaver. Like her mother, Amanda is strong, independent and capable, as well as following in her mother’s footsteps by becoming an engineer for the ethically questionable Weyland-Yutani corporation. It’s been 16 years since the events of the first film, and Amanda is looking for the reason behind her mother’s disappearance. When she is informed that the final flight recording of her mother has been discovered by the mysterious Seegson Corporation, she travels to their space station - the Sevastopol - to find answers. As soon as she arrives, however, she finds out that things have gone horribly wrong, and it turns out a xenomorph has been stalking and killing the station’s inhabitants.
The main selling point of Alien: Isolation is its titular creature. For the majority of the experience, you are stalked by the xenomorph. H.R. Geiger’s original creature has remained the figurehead for the venerable science-horror franchise, but it could be argued that its transformation from a singular entity into just one of many drones in sequels and spin-offs has lessened its ability to terrify. Alien: Isolation, however, returns the xenomorph’s status as a horror icon. Unlike last year’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, which pitted you against a swarm of unthreatening, easily killable creatures, Isolation’s Alien is unkillable and unrelenting in its pursuit against you. If it spots you, more often than not it will kill you in one of its many gruesome death animations.
For most of the game, your only defense is to simply move slowly, pay attention to your motion tracker, and utilize a selection of lockers, desks, and crates in which to hide. As the game progresses, you gain more tools such as flares and noisemakers that can distract the creature, giving you more breathing room against the game’s sometimes overwhelming tension. It could be argued that once you acquire a flamethrower - which can be used to drive off the Alien if it finds you - the odds become a bit too overly stacked in your favor, but the Alien can still catch you off guard if you don’t keep your wits about you.
The Alien is not the only threat you’ll find on the Sevastopol, however, which is also filled with paranoid, trigger-happy human survivors, and “Working Joes”, renegade synthetic androids that come across as nightmarish mannequins come to life. The game gives you a decent selection of firearms to deal with these foes, but ammo is scarce, and the resulting noise will almost invariably draw the Alien to your area, giving you more problems to deal with. Because of this, stealth usually remains the best tactic, though often I found myself intentionally luring the Alien out so he would attack the humans for me, resulting in some of my favorite emergent gameplay of the year.
Isolation’s tension is sometimes overbearing, with the possibility of instant death presenting itself at every turn. While this is great for creating suspenseful and engaging gameplay, it is sometimes rendered frustrating due to the manual save system. Harkening back to the early Resident Evil, Silent Hill, and other pioneers in survival horror, Alien: Isolation records your progress by having you visit save stations strewn throughout the Sevastopol. Save stations seem generous enough, but every now and then you are given a long stretch of gameplay without a save system in sight. This results in huge amounts of tension building up, as no one wants to lose up to fifteen minutes of progress by dying from the game’s many threats. Worse still, even the act of saving itself leaves you vulnerable for a couple seconds, meaning you can make it to a save station and still meet your end before your progress is recorded. I understand why the developers made this choice, but it feels like a more standard auto-save system would be better suited here, especially since many of the game’s set-piece moments use auto-saves anyway.
You won’t find any multiplayer modes in Alien: Isolation, but more competitive types can take part in “Survival Mode”, which tasks players with making their way through areas in as little time possible, with their scores being posted to online leaderboards. At launch, there’s only one map (with more to come later as DLC), so the addition comes off as a little barebones. Thankfully, the main story is a well-paced and lengthy experience - up to 20 hours for more patient players - so Survival Mode is more of a fun diversion than a core part of the experience.
It’s taken over two decades, but Creative Assembly has cracked the code for what makes a great Alien game. By focusing on the horror and, as its name implies, isolation, the developers have perfectly captured the original spirit of the film. Some aspects feel needlessly cheap and I’m not a fan of its manual save system, but hopefully these are only growing pains for what is an excellent new approach to the Alien saga.
This review is based on a retail copy of Alien: Isolation for the PS4, provided by the publisher.
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